November is seemingly the Rodney Dangerfield of months… nobody gives it much respect.
The masses collectively overlook November’s individuality, paying little mind to the month’s distinctive character. If it weren’t for Thanksgiving, they’d disregard poor old November entirely.
A few others do notice, but simply view November as a gloomy transition between colorful October and cold December. They see it as just a chilly partition dividing autumn from winter.
Even the majority of poets appear to find November equally uninspiring. Their literary takes tend to ramble ponderously in dank metaphors of death, dying, and dreariness—melancholic stuff that best needs to be read in a sepulchral voice.
Yet thankfully, there are at least a few welcome exceptions.
Hoosier lyricist James Whitcomb Riley saw November through a countryman’s eyes, calling it the “rapture of the year.”
Dayton native Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote of the “precious boon of living, in the sweet November days.”
On the whole, however, a positive November verse is relatively rare. This likely means most poets share the populist view that November holds little in the way of natural beauty or outdoor possibilities. Probably those toiling scribes were too busy concocting rhymes of starry-eyed lovers gamboling merrily amid the glories of spring to actually venture outside and see what November offered.
Whatever the excuse, it’s generally left to the old nature writers such as Hal Borland to interpret November with any degree of sympathetic clarity.
November skies, Borland once noted, are often “so deep, so blue that April and June were almost murky by contrast.”
Years ago, I spent much of a November day wading the upper reaches of the Mad River. At that time, there were a few stretches along this sparkling little Buckeye stream that offered a fly fisherman surprisingly good angling for trout.
About mid-afternoon, at a certain pool, I lucked upon a trio of active, decent-sized fish. The trout were rising enthusiastically, surface-feeding on a hatch of diminutive caddisflies.
Hopeful, I floated one of my tiniest fur-and-feather imitations their way.
On perhaps the third drift, a trout took—and I eventually landed a 14-inch-long silver-phase brown. Piscatorial lust whispered that if I took my time and allowed the pool to settle down, the remaining two browns would soon be rising again—and thus equally vulnerable.
So I paused, giving the remaining fish and my initial adrenaline rush time to settle down. However, in the midst of that pause, I looked up… and was suddenly transfixed!
I’d never in my entire life seen a sky so intensely blue!
The blue lane overhead between the bankside trees was oceanic—a glowing translucence of a color I’d only seen before in waters of the Gulf Stream. Brilliant and deep, polished. A jeweled, gleaming swath, as if the long wedge above the river had been sliced from pure sapphire.
A blue so profound and potent it seemed to vibrate.
Frankly, I have no idea if those other two trout ever resumed feeding—and if they did, I can’t recall whether or not I managed to tempt one.
But I’ll never, ever, to my dying day forget that dazzling November sky.
Indeed, one of the qualities we so often seem to forget when it comes to November is its wondrous light.
Days in early November can be filled with a rich, golden luminosity. Extraordinary light that bathes the landscape in tones that could have come straight from Rembrandt’s own palette.
Later in the month the light clarifies, turning more crystalline. But not into the hard, brittle light of mid-winter—that harsh light that rakes the land like the tines of a fork.
Rather it’s a friendly, scintillating illumination that magically etches the now-leafless trunks of trees, draws shape from the hillsides, and casts long afternoon shadows in shades of umber and plum.
From beginning to end, November days are filled with such fantastical light.
Amid this sublime light we outdoor ramblers rove fields and forests, haunting old, abandoned homesteads. We fill our pockets with pinecones and feathers and small water-smoothed stones from the little brook near the trail.
Found treasures, valuable only to us.
Sometimes, come November, we stomp the weeds for cottontails or ply the hill-country puckerbrush for partridge. On alternate outings, we visit our favorite late-autumn waters for crappie, saugeye, and smallmouth bass.
But no matter our chosen activity, we’ll do it under the iconic clean light and stirring skies which gives the month its character.
Even November nights benefit from this light. The stars seem closer, brighter. The moon rolls along like a plump pearl. I don’t know how, but I swear it even seeps into the ringing bawl of a coonhound hot on the trail.
So forget the poets. Disregard your prejudices and assumptions. Put your apathy in the closet. Give November a look, then give it its due.
To ignore November is to miss out on one of the year’s finest offerings.
Reach Jim McGuire at [email protected].